You’ll see it in sales ads: forward horse, requires experienced rider.
Read: this horse has a tendency to go faster than you’d like and doesn’t slow down if you want to.
This isn’t a safe problem to have with a horse, and it can be scary too.
Here is a simple training exercise to begin installing better brakes on a more-go-than-whoa horse.
You’ll want a safe, enclosed area to work in. This exercise can be done ridden or on the ground, depending on the horse’s and handler’s ability levels. For a horse that bolts, the smaller the area, the better. Always wear a helmet, appropriate shoes, and gloves.
You will walk the horse forward exactly six steps of the forelegs and then stop. No more, no less. Not five, not five and a half, six. Right front leg is one, left front leg is two, and so on.
This will take some planning ahead on your part. You will begin cuing for a stop as step number four is in the air. If you are on the ground, walking backwards can be helpful so you can see the front legs.
Step four: light stop pressure begins. Always start with light pressure.
Step five: pressure increases smoothly and steadily to a point that motivates the horse to stop.
Step six: release pressure completely.
Aim for three improved repetitions before working on something else or finishing the session.
Horse keeps walking after step six: It is likely for the first few repetitions that the forward horse will continue walking through the pressure past the sixth step. Continue to increase pressure until the stop is achieved and release immediately. Next time, make sure your pressure gets up to the effective level faster during the fifth step so you can release on the sixth.
Horse takes five steps: You can use less pressure. Try maintaining the same light pressure you started with on the fourth step instead of increasing pressure. Play with the amount of pressure needed to reach exactly six steps.
Horse walks again immediately after stopping: Make sure you aren’t releasing pressure too early. Apply pressure to stop again if he moves before you cue. Also make sure you aren’t expecting the horse to stay immobile for too long. When just starting the exercise, one to two seconds is long enough. Then have him take six steps forward again. As he gets better at stopping, you can increase the time you expect him to wait.
But I want the horse to stop when I say whoa/lean back/use other classical cue: Classically conditioned cues like voice or seat cues are wonderful. Every horse should learn them. But if the horse does not respond to light pressure, teaching a reliable classically conditioned cue is not possible. In a stressful or different situation, the cue will fade. I always teach response to light pressure first. Then it is very easy to add a voice or seat cue that is reliable.